By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker 10/5/97
Hell in a Cell Match
The first ever Hell in a Cell match was the perfect marriage of storyline, feud and gimmick. Ever since a wayward Shawn Michaels chairshot had cost the Undertaker the WWF World Heavyweight Title, the Deadman had been intent on gaining revenge. With a no contest at Ground Zero that saw the locker room emptying to keep both under control, the introduction of a cell structure to allow the two men to beat the living hell out of each other and for the Undertaker to finally make Michaels pay for his mistakes felt natural. The feud easily eclipsed that of the then-current WWF champion, Bret Hart, who was mired in the semi-main slot in a plodding programme with the Patriot.
The Undertaker’s righteous anger had been building up for weeks since Summerslam and Badd Blood was the place where he was going to take it out on Michaels. With nowhere to run and seemingly no way of gaining access to the ring from outside, the Undertaker had his opportunity to hurt Michaels good. With a WWF title shot on the line for the winner, the path was clear for Taker to not only gain revenge, but set himself up to regain the championship as well.
The whole match is a masterful piece of work from both men. From the earliest moments, where Michaels realised that he was trapped in a cell with the Undertaker and started to panic, to the violence unleashed upon him by the Undertaker, it was a brutal destruction – at times, akin to a squash match. The first offensive move saw Taker drop Michaels with a big boot to the face that had HBK flopping like a fish; Vince McMahon was prescient on commentary as he promised that it was not going to be pretty.
Michaels had on his bumping shoes as every move from the Deadman had him flying around the ring in a way that made his opponent look terrifying, rather than stupid (see: Hulk Hogan). A back body drop even saw Michaels’ feet graze the top of the cell due to the height he reached; the next time he tasted steel, it was significantly more impactful as Taker launched him over the top rope and followed up with multiple Irish whips into the structure.
Every time that Michaels looked like he might have been finding his way back into the contest, the Undertaker would inevitably cut him off. The first concerted control from HBK saw him hit a suicide dive, a cage assisted elbow drop and an apron clothesline as he tried to maximise this golden opportunity. Several shots with the steps led to a piledriver on what little remained around the turnbuckle. In a callback to Summerslam, Michaels introduced a chair to attempt to put Taker away, only picking up a nearfall for his troubles.
The match turned on Michaels landing on a ‘cameraman’ at ringside. Annoyed by the collision, Michaels punched the worker; a move that eventually forced the commissioner, Sergeant Slaughter, to ask the referee to open the door. As they tried to unlock the chain, Michaels landed the Sweet Chin Music, only for Taker to sit straight back up. Within moments, both men were outside of the cage, Michaels was bleeding buckets and the Undertaker was back in almost complete control before a low blow halted his offense.
Michaels’ attempts to escape saw both men head to the top of the cell, with drops of blood falling onto the camera below. Setting the bar for what was possible in this gimmick, Taker would send Michaels off of the side of the cage and through the announce table in a spot that felt like it ushered in a wrestling environment were risks and rewards continued to rise.
The ending perfectly complimented that which came before it. With Michaels wearing a crimson mask and the Undertaker using a chair to try and cave his face in, the arena lights would go off and the now familiar music of Kane would hit the PA system. Very few debuts were orchestrated as beautifully as that of the Undertaker’s ‘brother’, as he ripped the door off of the cell and went face to face with the man who had scarred him both mentally and physically many years before. One tombstone later, a long running feud was ignited and Shawn Michaels was able to get the pin and the victory.
As a pure wrestling match, there are several that surpass this. However, as a storytelling exercise, it personally ranks very highly.